By now it’s probably apparent that my main way to get into the wild is walking, whether to the shops or up a mountain. It’s usually with a dog and, for the last 8 years, a child.
If you walked before children you will probably take your kids with you from a young age.
If not, but if you want your kids to enjoy walking, you may find they need encouragement for long treks especially if, as in our case, they are an only child. It can be pretty boring walking with just adults.
Here are 10 simple ways to ease everyone’s pain and enjoy walking, even when your wild kids are done but the end isn’t yet in sight.
Take a Friend (or several!)
This No 1 child-walking hack works every time. Kids have double the fun, walk double the distance and are twice as tired at the end of the day. Multiply by as many friends as you dare to invite!
Have an End Goal
A river or hill-walk might satisfy adults but children can need more incentive to keep going. Aiming for a waterfall, standing stones, rock art, a high peak, an old ruin, duck feeding etc increases their anticipation and interest.
I await the internet parenting community’s wrath on my head..
Bad Mummy points maybe, but bribery can positively motivate children in certain circumstances. Not the promise of money or some huge treat, and not for a walk to the end of the street. A simple reward when the end goal is achieved.
On a steep hike last year with a group of children from 18 months to 8 years, one enterprising wild Mummy friend promised her birthday chocolate cake to all those reaching the top. Every child made it and it was deeply rewarding as parents to see how proud of themselves they were as they gaped at the stunning view and pointed out landmarks (with chocolatey grins and fingers!)
Older children love learning to map read and gain a great sense of achievement from directing the group using a map, checked of course by a map-reading adult (shhh, surreptitiously if necessary to avoid hurt feelings..)
Drinks and Snacks
Exhausted, fed up children who just ‘want to go home’ are easily re-energised with a timely snack or drink. The aforementioned chocolate cake works too! Don’t wait for the meltdown though, keep their energy up throughout the journey; we can become hypoglycemic in a third of the time outdoors. Check out my list of walking snacks in an upcoming article How To Be The Best Wild Parent Ever.
Teddy Comes Too
Regular readers will know the importance of Otto the Bear in Caroline’s daily life, especially during her cancer (read more here). If you’re taking a backpack anyway, why not include a favourite teddy, to impart encouraging cuddles when needed?
Doesn’t work for younger kids for whom it will make them tired more quickly but older children feel a great sense of responsibility with their first backpack. Choose a lightweight pack and only ask them to carry a drink and snack, and maybe the above bear if required. If they feel like a proper hiker they’re more likely to act like one even when tired.
The Right Gear
Wellies and waterproofs in the wet, flip-flops at the beach, splash suit in mud or snow. It’s common sense but can make all the difference between a happily completed walk or a final mile of screaming and wailing. I always take a change of clothes in case of mishap.
A bug-hunting kit or a magnifying glass is cheap and light to carry. Used only when little legs are flagging, it might help re-invigorate your bored wildling. Be prepared to stop and delay while all manner of insect life is investigated, but you might just complete the walk without tears.
Old fashioned I-Spy books are a great way to maintain interest on the walk. Leave them at the start having chosen certain things to search for, take them along if you have backpack space or simply play the traditional game as walk.
Scavenger or Treasure Hunt
Create one before you go out or make up ‘missions’ as you go along to distract little ones from their tiredness and add interest to walks they might otherwise find boring. Works especially well for more ‘uninteresting’ excursions. Cool of the Wild have printable scavenger hunt downloads here.
Whenever we go walking, parental pockets are soon bulging with accumulated rocks, sticks, shells, feathers, pine cones, you name it. Children with their own foraging bags soon learn not to collect the heavy stuff but love carrying their treasures around. Make it clear that whatever they collect is their responsibility..
All of these ideas are tried and tested by Kids of the Wild. Let me know your own walking tips for keeping youngsters on the trail.
See Walking and Hiking for more ideas and Kids of the Wild’s favourite locations.